The “perfect” myth

I’ve been putting off writing this post because each time I try I feel like my thoughts aren’t fully formed on the subject, and that I need to think and analyze it some more, or I need to pursue it from a different angle. However, this sentence alone illustrates my struggle with my greatest foe: myself. That is, my ridiculously high expectations for myself. My Virgo nature. That nasty, nagging, perfectionist voice which often leads me to doing less and worse despite its intention.

See, the weird logic is this: if I can’t do it exactly right, I often don’t attempt it at all. Or I procrastinate and then rush which gives me this weird “excuse” if things don’t turn out to meet my expectations.

I know that sounds a little counter-intuitive. My brain is a tricky place to live.

I’ve been trying to be more conscious of this cycle; both my tendency toward ridiculously high expectations for myself and my children and the defensive behaviors I have put in place to create excuses for not reaching those self-imposed expectations in the first place.

Although it seems like it would be easy to just lower my expectations, it is proving to be a bit of a struggle. The first step is writing this crappy post. I vowed to just write it. Not think any more about it. Not edit it. Just write, press publish and be done. I’ve promised myself that I can revisit the topic some other time if I’m not satisfied. And I won’t be. But I will write it.

My high expectations seem to be causing some issues at home. I’ve had both of my sons show signs of needing things to be “just so” whether it is the arrangement of stuffed animals on their bed, or playing a video game until they beat a certain level, or breaking down into tears because they made a mistake on a poster for school. I can’t say for certain that it is my influence that is causing them to behave in a similar way to how I do, after all, as someone pointed out, we are a house full of Virgos. Perhaps it is just in their nature, as it is in mine.

The thing is, I do have high expectations. For myself and my sons. And I want them to set their goals high too. And I want them to reach those goals. But I don’t want them to become paralyzed for fear of not performing up to snuff. I don’t want them to refuse to clean their rooms because it means it will take them all day because they will have to move their furniture and put everything exactly where it needs to go including looking through every paper and book that they come across. I don’t want them to not sign up for the spelling bee because they think they won’t win. I don’t want them to ever think need them to do anything perfectly.

For the past couple of years, I have found myself repeating to them that my only expectation is that they do their best and try their hardest. I have flat-out said that I do not expect perfection from them. However, I’ve had them come back at me accusing me of wanting everything to be perfect. What?!

I had to examine my own behavior to see if this was the case. It wasn’t.

Asking them to get garbage off the floor of their bedrooms and get dirty socks (and other things) out from under the bed is not asking for perfection. Asking that they are able to have space to study on their desks and not just have a pile of papers and books and toys, etc. is not perfection. If I had insisted that every book be lined up in order of size, or that nothing be visible on the floor or the dresser, then maybe I could take that accusation to heart.

Asking them to review their homework for mistakes when I had found some and know that they know the answer is not asking for perfection. Asking them to write legibly, to take their time with their schoolwork, and to make rough drafts of essays and reports is not asking for perfection. Asking that we actually make it to the bus on time, that we have all of our belongings when we leave for school and then when we return home is not asking for perfection.

So, no, I think they have some of the intrinsic desire for things to be perfect themselves. And maybe they are beginning to develop some of the same defense mechanisms that I have, in order to comfort themselves when things inevitably don’t turn out to be perfect.

I suppose my challenge as a parent then becomes how to help them put their expectations in the right place. To continue to reiterate that I just want them to do their best and that whatever the result is, I will be proud of them. I need to begin to show myself a little more kindness in front of them. Cut myself a little slack. Cut them some too.

We’ll focus on some of the other amazing traits we Virgos share: being loving, loyal service-oriented people. We can also use our driven, passionate natures not to seek perfection, but to seek contentment. To know that as long as we are doing our best, whatever the result will be good enough.

My "perfect" boys delivering our less-than-perfect cookies to our neighbors on Christmas Eve.

My “perfect” boys delivering our less-than-perfect cookies to our neighbors on Christmas Eve.

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4 thoughts on “The “perfect” myth

  1. My husband and I both have Virgo mothers. Did we hate it when we were growing up? Yes, we did. Do we suffer needlessly when we go home to visit? Yes, we do. BUT, we are both Sagittarians and still, neat, tidy, structured people, with quirks about it, and we have our Virgo mothers to thank. Without them, we might have grown to be sloppy and gross 😛
    And you’re right, much of what you want is not perfection, but a reasonable expectation for some order, and also respect for the home. Virgo is the heart of the home, the hearth tender 🙂

    I think the perfectionist gene is inescapable, btw. If it’s there, it’ll show up SOMEWHERE.

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    • I love the description “hearth tender”. My mother, NOT a Virgo, likes to remind me that I was a messy little daydreaming child for whom clean rooms and homework weren’t priorities ☺️ My perfectionism came out in other places back then. My need for orderliness came later. And even now there are times when my house is in utter chaos and I just have to let it go. My desk/office at work is a nightmare of clutter, but my performance is good and that is what really matters. I guess it boils down to choices. I just need to choose not to be such a pain in the ass that my kids end up hating me😋

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  2. Well done for writing this. I think it is not what we say but what we do that ultimately affects our children. To somewhat explain what I mean my husband is a really healthy eater. My kids are around me all day. I am not unhealthy but I don’t really eat fruit or care too much about what I eat. A little bit of what you fancy does you good is what I think. My kids are relatively grown up now and have eating habits exactly like my husband even though I am a big influence in their lives.
    Don’t beat yourself up. I believe that as long as our children understand how they think they can monitor it and if necessary make changes as they grow up.

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